Does Insomnia Affect Motor Function?
Last updated: February 2023
Sleep – everyone needs it! But not everyone gets enough good-quality sleep. Without regular rest, the body and mind do not function well. Just a single sleepless night can leave you feeling sluggish and irritable. But for many people, poor sleep is an ongoing problem called insomnia, and for some, insomnia can affect motor function.1-3
How do I know if I have insomnia?
Insomnia causes the following symptoms:1
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Waking often during the night
- Waking too early and being unable to fall back asleep
- Poor-quality sleep
- Finding it hard to function during the day
Chronic (long-term) insomnia is when sleep problems occur at least 3 nights per week for 3 months or longer.1,2
Problems insomnia causes
Sleep is essential for overall health. Poor sleep leads to poor daytime performance and a lower quality of life. Insomnia can also increase the risk of:12,4
- Heart disease
Insomnia can affect motor function
Struggling through sleepless nights can leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Along with mental and emotional stress, poor sleep has physical effects. Studies show that insomnia can affect motor function. Motor functions are body movements, like:5-9
- Using your hands
The physical effects of insomnia can be hard to measure. But there is evidence that people with insomnia move and react slower than people who have normal sleep. Slowed reactions can increase the chance of accidents. People with insomnia are at higher risk of car accidents and falls.5-9
Reaction times and attention
Insomnia affects people’s ability to concentrate and respond quickly. To measure these abilities, researchers use computer-based tests. First, the people being tested view images on a computer screen. Then they respond by pressing a key on a keyboard. The time it takes to press the correct key is used to calculate attention and reaction time.5-7
Compared to people with normal sleep, people with insomnia react slower on these tests. These differences may explain the higher rate of accidents in people with insomnia.5-7
Some people with insomnia get enough hours of sleep, but their sleep is not restful. Both the amount and the quality of sleep affect how you function during the day.6
By looking at brain activity during sleep, researchers can measure how often a person wakes up at night. Interrupted sleep leaves people feeling like they did not sleep well. Even when you get a normal amount of sleep, poor sleep quality can:6
- Lessen your ability to pay attention
- Increase your reaction time
Risk of falls and other accidents
Poor sleep and lost sleep are also related to changes in simple tasks like walking. Changes in walking speed may predict a higher risk of falls in people with insomnia.4
A 2021 study looked at walking speed in adults over 65 years old. People with insomnia walked slower than those with normal sleep. The people with insomnia also had a bigger change in walking speed when they were given a thinking task to do while they walked. These results show that insomnia affects both walking and mental focus.4,8
Decreased attention and reaction times can also affect road safety. Insomnia has been linked to an increased risk of driving accidents.1,9
What can I do about insomnia?
Sleep specialists recommend treating insomnia with a type of therapy developed for insomnia. This therapy helps with thoughts and behaviors that disrupt sleep. Studies show that behavioral therapy for insomnia can improve daytime function. There are also medicines that can help with sleep.1,10
Some health issues can also interfere with sleep. Managing these underlying health problems can improve sleep. A few things linked to a higher risk of insomnia include:1
- Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Restless legs syndrome
- Chronic pain
- Side effects of medicine
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